January 17-19, 2001 Capital Hilton Hotel
Washington, DC

January 17, 2001

300 Mayors, in Nation's Capital Release Groundbreaking Nationwide Poll Showing Strong Public Support for Passenger Rail Investment

Senator Lott, Amtrak CEO Warrington, London Mayor Livingstone Address "Mayors Summit on a National Rail Policy for the 21st Century"

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than 300 mayors from across the country converged on Union Station today, calling for a national rail policy and urging President-Bush and the Congress to make passenger rail service a top priority and a solution to the growing crisis of traffic and air congestion -- problems that are strangling economic growth and threatening the quality of life in cities and communities from coast to coast.

Download the Complete Survey Results

In the nation's Capitol for Inauguration activities and its 69th Winter Meeting, the U.S. Conference of Mayors also released a groundbreaking, nationwide poll that showed strong public backing from residents living outside the central city for passenger rail investment, with a vast majority of respondents (82%) supporting funding for a rail service network as an option to driving their cars.

"The mayors said it today, and the public said it in the poll. We need expanded passenger rail service, not just in inner cities but also in the suburbs and in rural areas, protecting the viability of our metro economies and maintaining the livability of our communities," said U.S. Conference of Mayors President and Boise Mayor Brent Coles who, along with U.S. Senator Trent Lott, Amtrak CEO George Warrington and hundreds of mayors from across the country, participated in a number of activities in Washington, D.C.'s historic Union Station, including a special, roundtrip ride to Baltimore and back on the high-speed Amtrak train, Acela Express.

Mayor Coles discusses the need for expanded rail service.
"We have run precipitously away from rail, as if it were a nostalgic mode of the 1900s. We want to say to President-Elect Bush - fuel rail the same way we have fueled airline expansions and highways. It's clear we need other solutions. Ask parents how much time they spend away from their children sitting in traffic. Walk into any major airport. Passenger rail can help us reduce congestion and commuting times," said USCM Vice President and New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, who led a roundtable discussion with the 300 mayors at Union Station's East Hall.

Also joining the dignitaries was the first popularly elected Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who is visiting the United States for the first time as a guest of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Livingstone was elected Mayor of London last May from a crowded field of eleven candidates, garnering an impressive 38 percent of the vote as an independent. One of his top priorities has been dealing with the transportation problems facing London.

Mayor Coles details the nationwide survey as (from l. to r.) New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown look on.
Through a series of surveys and meetings, the U.S. Conference of Mayors polled its members over a period of several months to determine policy priorities for the new Administration and the next Congress. The resulting document, entitled Transition Priorities for the New American City, called on the Bush Administration and Congress to support and invest in a national rail policy that would:

  • Include passage of S.1900, providing authorization and funding for High Speed Rail bonds, fixed guideway projects, advanced bus technology, a transit and community revitalization program, a station revitalization program and rural access in the amount of $3 billion;

  • Fortify the nation's inter-city passenger rail network by focusing on high-speed rail corridors and expanding service on non-high speed routes;

  • Deploy more heavy rail, light rail and commuter rail in metropolitan areas to connect the economic viability of communities;

  • Enact tax incentives and other measures to stimulate increased private sector participation in improving crossings, rail stations, and rail infrastructure, acquiring rolling stock, offering commuter benefits and transit-oriented development in support of passenger rail services.

The mayors said the call for a national rail policy comes at a time of growing public support for passenger rail service, as the U.S. Conference of Mayors' poll revealed. Significantly, almost three-fourths of the poll respondents live in suburban neighborhoods or outside a central city - residents not previously considered strong supporters of rail investments. Additionally, the poll did not survey California and the Northeast, areas of the country that generally have and support rail service.

Highlights of the poll appear below:

  • The vast majority of respondents (80%) said they supported the idea of building light rail and commuter rail systems serving cities, suburbs, and entire regions to give them the option of not driving their cars. Only 16% opposed.

  • 68% of Americans said spending public funds to build or improve rail systems to reduce traffic congestion was a "convincing reason" to invest in a passenger rail network.

  • 69% said they "favor" and 41% said they "strongly favor" creating high-speed train service to serve their communities and provide connections between major population areas. And, an overwhelming majority (87%) said they believe the United States Government currently possesses the resources to build a high-speed rail system.

  • Respondents believe that if more roads are built, more people will drive. 66% said they do not think that traffic congestion will be eased if more roads are built. The majority (58%) "disagree" and 40% "strongly disagree" that imposing tolls on highways is a fair and efficient way to relieve traffic congestion.

  • A large majority of respondents (68%) believe if no new transportation alternatives are offered during the next five-to-ten years, traffic conditions will worsen.

  • Not surprisingly, traffic congestion and commuting remain a serious concern, especially in the metro areas of the West and South. The vast majority of people believe that traffic congestion has worsened nationwide, with 58% of people "strongly agreeing" with this statement and 89% in agreement overall.

  • When asked if traffic had gotten better, worse, or stayed the same in their areas over the past five years, 79% said conditions have gotten worse, while only 6% think things have improved. One out of two respondents not only believe that traffic has worsened, but believe that it is currently "much worse" than it was five years ago.

  • Only 14% think that their commute has improved while 41% say that it has gotten worse. One likely reason that commuting has worsened is that access to public transportation has not significantly improved, while traffic has increased. Only 33% of respondents claim that they have better access to public transportation than five years ago, while 38% say things have stayed the same.

  • When asked whether, "during the election campaign that recently ended, the candidates for President, Senate, or Congress gave attention to issues affecting quality of life, such as traffic, affordable housing, or urban sprawl," an overwhelming 72% believe that the candidates paid either "a little attention" or "no attention at all" to these quality of life issues.

The poll's telephone survey was conducted from December 19 - 28, 2000, among 1013 randomly selected registered voters. The margin of error at the 95% confidence level is 3.1% on the overall sample. 72% of the respondents live in suburban neighborhoods or outside a central city. Regions included Seattle, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Tampa, Charlotte, Atlanta.

Contact: Jubi Headley, (202) 639-5422 (Press Office at the Capital Hilton)